By FRANCESCA MOLD political reporter

A former top defence official has said he leaked a letter detailing a covert Army campaign to capture military funding to the Opposition, not the brigadier who has been suspended for the offence.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defence Robin Johansen said yesterday that Brigadier Ian Marshall had given him a copy of the 1997 letter but had asked him to keep it confidential.

Mr Johansen said he decided it was too important to be kept secret and gave it to National MP Max Bradford in the hope there would be an official inquiry into its contents.

Brigadier Marshall has taken the blame for the document's release.

He was suspended by defence chief Air Marshal Carey Adamson on Monday when he admitted leaking the letter, which set out a plan to exploit the vulnerable Air Force and influence politicians to secure the most funding for the Army.

His future will be decided in the next few days.

Brigadier Marshall could face an "administrative discharge" or court martial.

Mr Johansen said he had come forward because he was concerned Brigadier Marshall was paying the price for something he had not done.

"I don't think Ian Marshall should be blamed for this," he said. "Technically he released the document to a member of the public, but not with the intent of it becoming a political issue. That decision was mine."

Mr Johansen was responsible for all major capital purchases for the Army, Air Force and Navy for nine years until he resigned in June 2000. He now works for Beca Consultancy Services in Auckland.

He told the Herald that he worked with Brigadier Marshall, a senior manager at defence headquarters, on the purchase of major defence equipment.

They had often discussed their suspicions that there was a deliberate campaign by some officers to undermine the process of deciding what kind of equipment should be bought.

Brigadier Marshall received a copy of the letter setting out the campaign anonymously and passed it to Mr Johansen as proof of what they had suspected.

"He had asked me to protect the document," said Mr Johansen. "Ian Marshall's motivation here was not to go public but to help me understand why we'd gone through what we'd gone through.

"I want the world to know the truth. And the truth is that Ian Marshall did not reveal this with the motive of causing trouble."

A Defence Force spokesman said Mr Johansen's confession would not alter the decision to suspend Brigadier Marshall. All information about the leak would be taken into account by the brigadier's commanding officer, who would decide whether he should be disciplined.

It is understood Air Marshal Adamson was already aware of Mr Johansen's role in the publication of the letter.

Opposition MPs have stressed the need for the Defence Force to ensure it is fair in its search for the leakers.

"If they are going to embark on a witch-hunt they should be even-handed," said New Zealand First defence spokesman Ron Mark.

Mr Bradford, a former Defence Minister, said Army "conspirators" involved in the campaign should also be stood down.

He accused Defence Minister Mark Burton of displaying a double standard by allowing the writer of the letter, Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Gordon, and Army chief Major-General Maurice Dodson, who ordered the shredding of a public relations document expressing the same view, to keep their jobs.

Mr Bradford praised the actions of Mr Johansen. "If the Gordon letter hadn't seen the light of day, the Army's conspiracy to capture defence policy and money would have continued to poison the country's defence forces," he said.

"Now the Government is punishing the messenger and, at that, the wrong messenger."

But Mr Burton said any action against leakers would be "without fear or favour".

"I don't care what side of particular debates the responsible persons are," he said. "There is an obligation to handle matters and material in an appropriate manner."

Brigadier Marshall has not returned calls from the Herald. A woman answering the telephone at his Lower Hutt home yesterday said he was not available and hung up.